Football has evolved, so has the footballers with time. From the time of the now-forgotten oblique formations and peculiar terms like inside right or outside right to the more generic setups of today and the newer conventions, the game of football has gone through revolutions aplenty and perhaps certain evolutions. With the advent of time, the importance of players and their roles on the pitch has changed, with present day footballers’ ability to play only a particular role in a particular setup being considered luxurious in today’s increasingly demanding game. Versatile players are now found in every other successful team, and although they tend to be specialists at one particular role only, they are better than most at various other positions on the pitch. The FIFA World Cup is almost upon us, and we take a look at the top 5 versatile players who will be worth watching in Brazil.
- Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Lahm’s versatility was well-known for years, only that Pep Guardiola found another side of it and gave it a fresh tweak. Germany’s captain Lahm yo-yoed between the left and right side of Germany and Bayern Munich’s defence for years; he started and scored his first World Cup goal for Germany in 2006 as a left-back cutting in from the flanks. Lahm’s equal ease at left-back and right-back prompted many a manager to breathe easy whenever there was a casualty, as he put in immaculately good shifts on both side of defence for years. Now with age and experience, Lahm plays in the right of defence only, but what Guardiola did to Lahm was to use his great intelligence to effect in a holding midfielders’ role. Lahm has risen up to the challenge, and could be playing as a defensive midfielder at the World Cup due to some serious doubts in the midfield. With Lahm, disappointment is never an issue; he always plays well wherever he plays.
- Sergio Busquets (Spain)
The young Catalan might not be one amongst the flashy lot, but his importance to the Spain team can never be measured. He is irreplaceable in Vicente del Bosque’s Spain, and although his contributions in the red of Spain has always come from the centre of the park, Busquets can hold his own in the middle of the defence as well. He played as a centre back for his club Barcelona on many occasions, owing to the frequent injury-induced absences of talismanic captain Carles Poyol. Busquets never disappoints, and his silky style of playing coupled with his good footballing sense makes him almost error-free in his auxiliary role. It was Pep Guardiola who made him play as a makeshift centre back, and Spain could possibly need him to be at his versatile best this term because of the lack of centre back options beyond the first choice Pique-Ramos combination.
- Kevin–Prince Boateng (Ghana)
The German-born Ghanaian is one of Ghana’s key players to lead them in the World Cup, and we could see Kevin-Prince Boateng featuring in various roles across the Brazilian pitches. Boateng is known for his versatility and is often regarded as an utility man. The brother of German international Jerome, Kevin-Prince has played in all sorts of positions at both club level and international level. His enigmatic character and his passionate style of football coupled with his expertise as an all-rounder could be vital to Ghana’s chances of making it big in Brazil. Boateng plays primarily as a second striker at his club Schalke, but his transition from being a full-back in Portsmouth’s FA Cup win in 2008 to leading the line up front has been noteworthy.
- Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
The experienced engine room of Argentina is almost peerless when his qualities are up for discussion, and Javier Mascherano’s impact in Argentina’s midfield will stand a long way in deciding the fate of the Albiceleste. Mascherano primarily plays as the deepest-lying midfielder for the national team, but he played almost the entire season at Barcelona as a centre back. Mascherano is not quite the ball playing centre back, nor is he the elegant midfielder-turned-defender who loves doing things with the ball. He is a no-nonsense destroyer; his anticipation of the ball and ability to judge the flow of opposition attacks are as important as a Messi assist. Mascherano is expected to stop the rot for Argentina from midfield, but his continued presence in the heart of the Barcelona defence will keep him in good stead for a role at the back, if the situation demands.
- Kevin Grosskreutz (Germany)
Perhaps the only member of the list who is not guaranteed a start in their national teams. The Dortmund-born midfielder-turned-defender will be a reserve for Joachim Loew’s Germany, and he will be looking to seize his chance if he gets any. The 25-year-old started as a winger for his club and scored and created sackful of goals, but his all-running and infinite stamina style of football made coaches convert him into a role whose demands far outweigh that of a typical winger: a full-back. Grosskreutz journey as a right-back went off the hooks when his club Borussia Dortmund were struggling with injuries at the back, and the big man hasn’t looked back since. His form for Dortmund earned him a call to Germany’s World Cup squad, and he would be an important asset with his physical approach and never-say-die attitude. Grosskreutz could yet be Germany’s secret weapon in their bid for a fourth World Cup crown.